Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 8, Number 3: March 2008

Making it Work

What’s “it”? Libraries. Social software in libraries. Balancing existing needs and new possibilities. Expanding patron involvement without biasing the library toward its richest, most connected patrons. Making libraries more valued cores of their communities.

That’s what I said to lead off the first Making it Work in May 2007 (C&I 7:5), and maybe it bears repeating after a two-month absence. I also noted this, buried in Bibs & Blather in the same issue, when I formally dropped The Library Stuff:

To use webspeak, The Library Stuff is now deprecated (like The Good Stuff): It might appear again, but it’s unlikely.

That’s not because Steven M. Cohen told me to stop using his term (he didn’t). It’s certainly not because I plan to write less about direct library issues—quite the opposite, as I believe the first four issues of 2007 show. If anything, a renewed concentration on libraries as libraries makes The Library Stuff less useful as a section. It has no organizing principle other than alphabetic order by citation. It’s useful as a way to comment on articles and longer posts, but not as a way to synthesize citations and insights on topics.

Enter Making It Work, beginning in this issue and continuing as long and frequently as it feels right. My plan is to use the new section for topical discussions—not just “Library 2.0” or social software issues, but any library topics not covered elsewhere where I think interesting things are being said and feel I can add value to the discussion.

Although Making it Work appeared in six of the eight issues from May 2007 through the end of 2007, my holding space for raw material grew from one folder to two bulging Pendaflex hanging files—and I considered possible ways to make it a separate publication. Barring surprises, that now appears improbable for at least the next year or so, and I winnowed the source material severely.

Here are bunches of discussions on aspects of making libraries and librarians work better. This won’t eliminate the backlog, but it helps—and it seems right that an issue featuring 100 reasons for Cites & Insights should devote more than 40 to the library field.

By the way, if you’re looking for comments on library leadership, those are far more likely to turn up at the PALINET Leadership Network, If you care about library leadership, you should be part of PLN. If you don’t, then you’ll appreciate that I’m not using space here to discuss leadership! [25]


Are libraries primarily about books? That’s what the public seems to think (at least for public libraries), and I’d be hard-pressed to say they’re wrong. I like the broader term “stories,” and I’d agree with recent suggestions that “information”—the supposed center of libraries—is mostly the icing on the cake, with books and other resources being the cake itself. Libraries have “lost” their role as “the place for information”—a role I’ve long argued they never really had—but not their role as primary sources for stories about humans, civilization and community. Along with, in many cases, good advice on which free stories to pursue: Reader’s advisory services.

Items in this section concern reader’s advisory and the newish notion of Slow Reading. We begin with a Reader’s Advisory guest column in RUSQ—Reference and User Services Quarterly. [26]

Academic libraries and extracurricular reading promotion

That’s the title of Julie Elliott’s Reader’s Advisory piece in RUSQ 46:3 (Spring 2007), I haven’t been reading RUSQ, and encountered this because Barbara Fister commented on it at ACRLog.

It’s a good article, well worth reading. Excerpts:

I created a survey and corresponded with academic librarians across the United States to determine what academic libraries are doing to promote extracurricular reading, what barriers are keeping them from promoting it more, and why some of them do not actively promote reading.

To get a better idea of why recreational reading promotion is so scarce in academic libraries, I examined the history of reading promotion in academic librarianship. What I found was that it was not only elitism among past librarians that hampered the concept (or that could impede its future) but rather the same three culprits that hamper just about every project in our profession: budget, staff time, and space.

That is not to say that the idea of reading promotion in academic libraries is a nonstarter. Rather, I discovered that there are many librarians dedicated to the idea who have found creative methods of getting past the barriers of budget, time, and space to create programs and collections of value for their students, faculty, and staff. I also learned that nearly everyone I interviewed wants to continue the conversation and to begin collaborating with our public library colleagues to learn from their experience how to create better recreational reading resources for our students.

It’s heartening to see a suggestion that academic libraries could learn from public libraries. While public and academic libraries serve different needs, they’re not unrelated.

Elliott offers historical evidence that “encouraging extracurricular reading used to be a component of an academic library’s mission.” That seemed to decline by the 1960s, although an early One Book, One Campus program began in 1961-1962. Meanwhile, recreational reading collections seemed to be going unused by the 1950s and studies indicated that “the faculty did not always expect the students to use their library for such purposes.” Was elitism part of this decline, with academic librarians promoting “only the best” literature? More important, almost certainly, was “ever-increasing demands on one’s professional time and library resources.”

In addition to increased responsibilities, fewer staff, and changing technologies such as television, academic librarians in the late 1950s were trying to brace themselves for the first wave of Baby Boomers, who they referred to as the rising tide. In addition to the effect of expanding services for students on the promotion of recreational reading, space in the library was also becoming an issue…

Others argued that by the 1970s, library schools’ tendency to downplay RA led to a decline in reading promotion not just in academic libraries, but in all libraries.[Darlene Money in 1971]: “A primary reason for the decline in readers’ advisory service (and this is true not just in public, but in academic, school, and special libraries as well), is that in a very few years the book has become de-emphasized … Reading is just not fashionable in the library world anymore.”

Not that recreational collections disappeared entirely. A 1982 survey found that a majority of 110 libraries surveyed “are providing services to meet the recreational, or leisure, reading interests of their patrons.” But browsing rooms were on the decline, and if they didn’t disappear entirely were being staffed by students rather than librarians—or not staffed at all.

[Additionally], now librarians had to address the technology boom. This shift led to a need for academic librarians to instruct students on how best to manage their information choices. “The role of helping people access content has grown so much, we didn’t mean to push out readers’ advisory,” said Barbara MacAdam, director of the Graduate Library at the University of Michigan. “[I]t is just that the accessing content part of the job has expanded so greatly … Readers’ advisory in academic libraries has changed in that with all [the] technology that has changed, our role has changed. Technology has changed how we work and think.”

In a later article, MacAdam notes the extent to which students were viewing reading as strictly functional: “Faculty, including librarians, have chosen to serve a discipline and the literature while college students generally expect that the discipline and the literature must serve them … College students seek the assurance that the material they are asked to read (and the time thus spent) will contribute directly to learning, academic success, and graduation.”

Elliott’s survey yielded 270 responses (not all complete) from mailings to ARL directors, Fiction_L, Collib_L, Colldev_L and some state discussion lists. She notes potential flaws in the survey—sending a request to Fiction_L might bias toward positive responses on recreational reading and the decision by some directors to opt out entirely “since their library did no [extracurricular reading] programming or promotion” might also bias it in that direction.

The results are nonetheless interesting. Slightly more than 70% of those surveyed said their library has a browsing area. Some institutions are collaborating with local public libraries. Fewer than half of those surveyed use book lists to promote recreational reading—and some libraries have added recreational collections because students requested them. Roughly 11% of college libraries surveyed have One Book, One Campus-type programs. Nearly 20% participate in campus or community reading programs.

There’s still an attitude that recreational reading is an inferior use of academic library resources:

“Given the limited funds and time of the library as well, we are working just to keep up with the reference, instruction, and materials [students] need for class and research,” wrote Bergman. “People are concerned about it being perceived that money being spent on nonacademic pursuits could leave the library open to budget cuts,” wrote Moritz…

Another argument for why academic librarians do not promote extracurricular reading is that it might detract from the image of the librarian as information specialist and might ally academic librarians too closely to their public library counterparts. “[W]e tend to privilege finding information over reading and, perhaps, worry that promoting mere reading is what low-brow public libraries do (or, even worse, what Oprah does),” wrote Fister. “It’s seen as a public library service,” noted Moore. “Why do we think John Grisham, Agatha Christie, and Ted Dekker only belong in a public library?”

Anecdotally, several of the librarians interviewed for this story (and myself as well) who were enthusiastic about promoting recreational reading had prior experience as public librarians. Perhaps there is a connection between this public library experience and the belief that recreational reading is important. It was also expressed by some of the librarians interviewed that making connections between public and academic librarians on this issue would be beneficial. “Last summer my husband and I visited the San Jose State Library, which, as I’m sure you know, occupies the same building as the San Jose Public Library,” wrote Bousfield. “Within one building patrons can meet research and recreational needs. That model might not be practical for all academic institutions, but greater communication and cooperation between public and academic libraries would help both to better serve patrons’ needs.”

Some of us scratch our heads over widespread negative reaction to the finding that the public mostly associates libraries with books. Barbara Fister is quoted as saying this gave her “the feeling that, in fact, many librarians have contempt for books and reading. And ordinary readers. I do think we need to help people understand what riches we have available, but it seems as if we’re embarrassed about the number of books we have and would prefer to be in some other ‘business’ rather than books.” Or, as Lianne Hartman puts it, “Perhaps there is a fear that adding The Devil Wears Prada somehow takes away from the ‘academic weight’ of the collection.”

The belief that many college librarians do not read recreationally themselves was also suggested. The survey responses do not support this idea, but this could be due to the survey flaws previously mentioned. Forty-three percent of those surveyed noted that they read a book for fun at least once a week. Six percent stated that they rarely read for fun. “Many librarians do not have any reader’s advisor skills, and unfortunately, some of us do not read recreationally,” wrote Johnston.

Why do many academic librarians continue to promote “extracurricular” reading? Because they believe it’s important for the overall education of college students. Because it’s fulfilling. Sometimes because students ask for it.

Should academic libraries promote balance in students and faculty? If so, isn’t “recreational” reading, reading for the joy of reading, part of that balance? [27]

Reading in the Vulgate

That’s the title of Barbara Fister’s May 19, 2007 post at ACRLog commenting on the article and the issue ( Excerpts with no additional commentary:

Indulging in a fondness for books has become a contested territory. People think of books as our “brand” even though libraries offer much more. If we reinforce that outdated view of libraries by celebrating books, are we selling our libraries short—or are we honoring something people actually love about libraries?... Is being irritated by popular forms of reading another kind of elitism?

Public libraries have long honored diverse reading tastes, but academic libraries are likely to be accused of wasting money if they purchase genre fiction or popular history (even if it’s of high quality). Academic libraries that try to satisfy students’ interest in reading outside the syllabus risk being tarred with the scarlet letter “O,” encouraging reading for pleasure at the expense of reading seriously… [28]

The Gypsy Librarian comments

Angel Rivera posted “Article note: On academic libraries and RA” at The gypsy librarian on June 18, 2007 ( Rivera notes that elitism isn’t “just the old timers”—he sees “a new form of elitism [in L2 rhetoric] where it seems traditional reading is allowed to wither…because it does not fit within the cool toys schemes.” Rivera notes a few of his own experiences with leisure reading.

Recently, at the suggestion of some colleagues, our library put in place a small browsing area for leisure reading. The recent stats reveal it is getting use, which provides encouragement for this to continue. You see, give the students some good casual reading, and they will find it…

New books areas are always popular. I know our New Books Shelf is a popular stop in our library.

Eastern Illinois University has a graphic novel collection. We have bought some titles, but I think it is time we buy a lot more and seriously build a collection, both for academic interest as well as for recreational reading.

Commenting on other issues raised in the article:

I hate [the] notion that somehow public librarians are beneath us academics... We should be collaborating a lot more, and RA is one area for that. After all, public librarians do have vast experience in the area. Why not tap into that? …Why should the public librarians have all the fun?

While the notion of redefining the library and bringing in new users is certainly a good thing, doing it at the expense of regular or traditional users who may wish to have some quiet to actually read is not the way to do it… It really is as if somehow the librarians were suddenly embarrassed to have something called books in their buildings.

Some academic libraries did take reader’s advisory courses, but note the final sentence here: “I took at least two courses in RA when I was in library school. I do have to point out that this was something I had to seek out. The academic track does not really encourage such courses, but I went and did it anyhow.” [Emphasis added.] [29]

John Miedema on Reader’s Advisory

Miedema had an eponymous blog before he founded Slow reading ( As sometimes happens when blogs change names and addresses, previous posts can become difficult to locate. “Eight nascent concepts about Reader’s Advisory” appeared June 3, 2007. You may or may not be able to locate the original, but in any case it serves as a bridge from here to subsections on slow reading.

Miedema was in the midst of an RA course and had “a ton of thoughts about adult reading and libraries.” Some of those thoughts (paraphrasing):

     What is the role of community in personal reading? For Miedema, reading is solitary, and he wonders how book clubs affect reading.

     Isn’t there room for both book blogs and book reviews in newspapers? He thinks there is, and questions the notion that online book reviews are cutting into the newspaper book review market. (My take: Newspaper book reviews are disappearing because publishers only advertise in New York media. No ads, no book reviews: That simple.)

     RA should claim the online catalog—or at least should play a bigger role in the design of OPAC interfaces than it has.

     Should libraries offer bibliotherapy?

     In addition to “more like this,” should there be “something entirely different” services? Some of us look for variety when we read for pleasure.

Miedema also noted an early and brief attempt at a “slow” blog, which later became a primary focus. Worth reading, if you can locate the post. [30]

Book circulation since 1856

Here’s an odd one: A paper by an FCC economist, Douglas A. Galbi, studying public library book circulation since 1856—but on a per capita basis for reported users of libraries. The title is “Book circulation per U.S. public library user since 1856.” Draft 1.01 appeared on July 29, 2007 ( The HTML version is 15 pages plus references and notes. The conclusion: “Library book circulation per user has no strong, long-run trend.”

I question whether per capita use by reported users—as opposed to overall use or per capita use across the entire population—is a particularly meaningful figure. Build more libraries serving more people, including those disinclined to travel long distances to libraries, and overall per capita use is likely to fall, even while the resulting libraries are more successful in every meaningful way I can think of.

Thought experiment: Assume you only built public libraries in college towns and communities with very high percentages of people with liberal arts degrees, and also at least one child per household. You’d probably have very high per cap circulation because your user base would be one with avid reading interests. But you’re ambitious: You build out libraries, services and promotions so that you reach nearly everybody, including the less educated and those with less time on their hands. Maybe your new users only read one or two books a year instead of 30, 40 or 50.

Your per cap circulation drops. Your overall usage increases. Your service to the community increases. Galbi says that circulation per library user per year is a “meaningful, feasible measure of library use across long periods.” Feasible, certainly: It’s almost always reported. Meaningful? Not in isolation.

The graph seems a little ominous. Starting at around 13 circs in the 1850s, numbers jump around between 13 and 19 from study to study—but then drop to nine in 2004. But consider the reality: In 1856 (14 circs per user), 1,297 libraries reported an average of 5,856 circs per library. In 2004 (9 circs per user), 9,207 libraries reported an average of 163,797 circs per library. In other words, seven times as many libraries circulated twenty-eight times as many books per library or more than 198 times as many overall—but only two-thirds as many per user. Were there 198 times as many people in the U.S. in 2004 as in 1856? No, there were roughly nine times as many people. Are libraries only two-thirds as effective at serving avid readers, or are they serving the people of the nation more than twenty times as well?

Look at a closer comparison: 1923 vs. 2004. In 1923, circulation per user rounds to 15—but that comes from 5,080 libraries averaging 64.930 circulations each. The population in 1923 was 111.9 million (293.2 million in 2004). Basically, in 1923, public libraries reported a total of 329.8 million circulations—which, at 15 circulations per capita, means that they were serving 22 million people, or just over 20% of the total population. In 2004, public libraries reported a total of 1.5 billion circulations—which, at 9 circulations per capita, means they were serving 167.6 million people, or 57% of the total population.

To me, that says public libraries did a much better job of serving the nation in 2004 than they were in 1923, but part of that job was serving a much larger number of people, many of whom do not read as many items. [31]

Slow reading

As John Miedema puts it, “slow reading is about reading at a reflective pace.” I’ve already mentioned the blog— or, more recently, (The related Slow library blog,, seems to be moribund, although I encourage you to read the final post as of this writing—a review of Balanced Libraries that says “it could be the bible of the Slow Library movement.”)

When you have a few minutes to reflect, take a look at the posts. This is not a call for people to read everything slowly. It recognizes the worth of digital technology for fast reading, “terrific when we need a quick, rough answer, but like fast food it often leaves one hungering for something more substantial.” Many types of reading are improved by reading slowly—literature, local stories, deep research materials.

Slow readers prefer books over screens, for the superior readability of paper, but also for the fixity of print. Print captures ideas and gives them a stillness that allows the reader to open deeply to them…

Slow reading is closely associated with the larger Slow movement… Slow readers seek out local content, local readings and encourage micro-publishing… Slow reading is a form of resistance, challenging a hectic culture that requires speed readings of volumes of information fragments… Slow reading is recognition of the intrinsically worthy act of reading. It is good for our minds, our emotional health, our communities and planet.

Maybe a blog isn’t the best place for writing about slow reading, which is also likely to be writing that deserves slow reading: It’s hard to read a blog slowly, even in print form. Another post asks whether slow reading will be a casualty of “fast libraries”—the trend toward complete digitization and extent to which librarians think of books as just being information boxes. Miedema says that libraries wishing to support slow reading “need to keep their mission rooted in the essentials—books (including the fiction shelves), local libraries, and people living in communities.” I already discussed that post in the December 2007 Cites & Insights which, like the August 2007 issue, was implicitly designed for slow reading, consisting entirely of relatively leisurely essays. Did people print it out and read it slowly, or did they skim each essay, mentally shouting “Get on with it!”? It’s not my place to say. [32]


Philosophy? Really? Well, yes. Some posts and articles seem to be more about the philosophy of libraries of librarianship than anything else—or at least this makes a convenient spot for them.[33]

The four habits of highly effective librarians

Start with Todd Gilman’s May 23, 2007 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education Careers section ( It’s a play on Stephen Covey’s book, to be sure, but it’s also an interesting list. Brief excerpts, reformatted for space:

Openness. All too often, librarians—like all human beings—do not listen to one another. In a well-meaning attempt to be proactive we may dutifully invite co-workers or subordinates to weigh in on how we might improve some aspect of our services. If they say things we have already thought of, or agree with (or both), all is well.

But if their responses are not what we expect (read: want) to hear, rather than question our assumptions, we become defensive… Let's face it: It's hard to take criticism, even if it's constructive. It's even harder to act on it and try to change our behavior, policies, or procedures…

Openness entails a willingness to listen to what the facts are telling us.

Responsiveness. It is what happens once openness has succeeded. Responsiveness means taking appropriate action based on careful listening…

A willingness to just one example of the enormous potential of responsiveness.

Collaboration. By that, I refer to the desirability of working—not in isolation, as so many of us do—but with one's fellow librarians to get a job done…

A great way to encourage a more collaborative attitude generally would be to set up one or more librarywide wikis. With wikis, librarians from all over the campus can collaborate virtually to establish best practices, solve common problems, and generally feel more connected with their peers…

Communication. Nothing is more frustrating than business-related e-mail messages going unanswered for weeks at a time—if indeed they are answered at all. E-mail has made timely communication so much easier than ever before. The mind boggles that some people persist in ignoring it altogether or treating it as though it were back issues of The New Yorker that they hope to get caught up on one day…

In the unfortunate event that a controversial decision has to be made quickly, or by fewer people (or both), at the very least stakeholders should be warned that the matter is under consideration. Choosing an open means of communicating the decision (e.g., a public assembly), and in a timely way—before rumors start and people become upset—can go a long way toward avoiding ruffled feathers and bringing coworkers on board with you…

Go read the whole article. It’s not long and Gilman makes good points. As one who’s never been as collaborative as might be desired, I have difficulty arguing with any of what he says. [34]

My job in 10 years: Physical and virtual spaces

I discussed John Dupuis’ “my job in 10 years” series at Confessions of a science librarian before (C&I 7:6 and 7:10). Somehow I omitted this essay, which appeared May 31, 2007 ( 2007/05/my-job-in-10-years-physical-and-virtual.html). You can get the whole series with attachments as a 41-page PDF. It it wouldn’t take much to turn it into a short book. Need I mention that it’s well worth reading—even if (or particularly because) I don’t agree with everything Dupuis says?

Just a sampling of what Dupuis says about spaces (physical and virtual), from his perspective as an academic science librarian:

I think we need to make sure we continue to give students the kinds of spaces they need for their academic work: formal collaborative spaces, informal group spaces, quiet study, lab spaces where they have access to the software they need to do their assignment and can do research. All these things are important now and will continue to be important in the future…

It would be great if we also had some fun and relaxing times and spaces too…

We need spaces that are conducive to roaming reference, to ad hoc group consultations in study and lab areas, some sort of reference desk will probably still be in use and of course we will definitely need labs and workshops for instruction activities…

[W]e are often stuck with older buildings full of stuff… While we might like to ship our bound journals and print books off into storage to make room for other kinds of uses, at the moment that would be a huge disservice to our patrons…

Perhaps the biggest challenge to overcome will be monetary. Adding new space or doing major renovations to existing space isn't cheap…

Virtual Spaces…. Basically all web-based applications, past, present and future.

Just as the internet today would be almost unimaginable to us 10 years ago, so too the internet will evolve in unpredictable and unimaginable ways in the next 10 years, thus making any attempt to discern exactly what shape our online presences will take over the next decade will be difficult to say the least…

[W]e should not be afraid to make mistakes… Flying headlong into every shiny new technology, magpie-like, is probably a waste of precious resources, but always being the slow and steady tortoise in equally risky…

I may appear to be more tortoise-oriented than Dupuis, but that’s at least partly to balance a period in which shiny new things seemed ascendant in library discussion. I think that period is ending; it’s important not to have the pendulum swing to inaction. [35]

Some of the trends Dupuis thinks we should be watching (omitting several):

* The social web: Social networking software is the hottest thing going right now, but it's impossible to tell how what shape these embryonic systems will take and how permanent and wide ranging a lot of the innovations will be…

* User-created content: It's something that isn't going away either: blogs, wikis, mashups, photos, tags, personal data stuff like LibraryThing databases..

* Virtual worlds…are a very interesting phenomenon to watch. They certainly have a huge future as gaming environments but it will be interesting to see if they take off as business, educational and leisure environments…

* Mobile and ubiquitous computing: They are already huge trends and they will only get bigger.

* OPACs:…I hesitate to make any predictions myself, but I would be extremely surprised if what we call the OPAC is at all recognizable in 10 years…

* Special Collections: One trend that's not going away is libraries creating and publishing their own content…

* Serendipity:…By far the largest category of stuff we should keep our eyes on: the stuff I've forgotten, can't imagine or seriously underestimate the importance of.

I continue to have trouble with ubiquitous computing, but it’s certainly something to watch. The library as publisher is a growing theme in several realms, including public libraries; it’s one I’ve favored for some time. [36]

On the other hand… considerations that cannot be ignored:

* Creeping commercialization:… We mustn't forget that we are public institutions and we have a duty to spend public money in a appropriate way…

* Privacy: Our patrons may not care about their privacy, but it is our professional duty to protect it for them whether they want us to or not… If you don't think privacy is important, two words: Patriot Act.

OK, stop right here. Go read the whole post. I’ll wait. “Whether they want us to or not…” is an important clause, not to be dismissed lightly, particularly on the altar of Doing It Just Like the Commercial Guys.

* Offensive content: Radical trust and user-generated content are great things, but what do you do the first time someone posts racist, sexist or otherwise offensive or hateful content, the first time there's an incident of bullying or harassment of students, faculty or staff?...

* Build it, and ...: What if we build social spaces where patrons can network and create content and...they just don't?...How do we make our virtual spaces interesting and fun enough to attract users' attention and yet useful enough to be worth our time and energy -- and theirs too. Students want their own social spaces, and may not be as interested as we would like to think in "official" social spaces.

* Digital divide: There's a couple of digital divides we have to keep in mind. We have to be aware that not all our students have the economic resources to play with the latest gadgetry so we have to make sure we design our offerings to be accessible to everyone. We also have to remember that not all our students want to be engaged with all the latest technologies; there's a wide range of aptitudes and inclinations within any student body…

* Preservation: If we create systems that have user-generated content and if we digitize special collections and host journals, in other words if we are stewards of unique content, we will have to ensure the long-term preservation of that content…

* Academic integrity/intellectual property: Sharing is one thing, stealing is another. Or is it? What's the difference and how can you tell?...

* Patience:…The challenge is not to be too impatient for things to work themselves out...

* Vision drift. In our rush to be all things to all people, we can't forget that our core mission is always going to be connected to the academic mission of our institution.

My job in 10 years? To plan an active role in moving my institution forward in a sane, balanced way that also embraces the endless possibilities of new technological and social patterns. To advocate for better systems and spaces for our patrons, to plan, to facilitate, to organize, to help build, to advertise, to cajole, to promote, to teach. To see the interrelationships between physical and virtual spaces, how one can be used to promote the other, how they are complementary not competing. To promote our physical and virtual spaces to faculty, students and staff. To raise funds to implement grand ideas, to make tough decisions, to understand trade-offs.

I hope I’m still around and still involved with libraries in 2017. I’d like to sit down with Dupuis at an OLA SuperConference, Access or some other setting and see how this all works out. [37]

Strategy without philosophy

Bo Kinney posted this on May 28, 2007 at The letter Z ( The direct focus was an incident last year related to library unions, management relations and the focus of a public library’s collection. A number of high-profile bloggers jumped all over librarians who seemed to oppose popular material. It was not a pretty scene and might best be forgotten.

The heart of the post should not be forgotten. Kinney sees

a rush to change to meet every caprice of technology and pop culture, and a characterization of those who question this attitude as hopelessly out-of-touch. Change is good, sometimes, and librarians, like everyone, should be open to it. But change is something that should be embarked on critically and carefully. Much of the change I see happening in libraries seems to be coming from a place of fear, out of a belief that if libraries don’t “stay relevant” they will disappear. But if staying relevant means catering to the whims of users at the expense of libraries’ values, is it worth it? And what are libraries’ values? Simply giving users what they ask for, or using librarians’ knowledge, skills, and professional expertise to help them find things they might never have thought to ask for?

The post cites Charlie Robinson of “Give ‘em what they want” fame and suggests Robinson’s reasoning is somewhat circular:

Successful libraries are well-used libraries, therefore libraries should buy things that people will use. What’s missing is any philosophical justification for this definition of success. Why should libraries collect only materials that people ask for? Without reflection on this question, this strategy is bankrupt of any kind of principle…

After contrasting Robinson’s tenets with the 1852 Boston Public Library Report to the City of Boston, which may seem a little elitist today, Kinney says “Public libraries have a philosophical foundation: promoting democracy by providing access, for ordinary people, to the information required to make wise political decisions.” The post closes: “Libraries won’t stay vital by simply capitulating to demands. They will stay vital by serving a vital role in society. To do this, they must be run by philosophy, not merely strategy.”

As one who advocates balance, I believe in balance between “what they want” and the long-term needs of “the people’s university.” Kinney makes a good point: There needs to be some philosophy behind the strategies—a long-term mission underlying day-to-day decisions. [38]

Big or small?

Jenn Riley posted this at on June 16, 2007 ( Riley asks a tough question:

Should you focus your efforts on a smaller number of really big technology projects, or a larger number of smaller projects?

Riley notes that big projects (Endeca, Google Book Search partnerships) get more press—but smaller projects “can also have considerable impact… Often the simplest idea, quickly implemented, will fill a great user need.”

Sometimes, as with digitization projects, it may be possible to start small and wind up with big results—and “An iterative approach can serve to make projects that once were considered large smaller over time.” That means avoiding complacency and learning from experience.

A good, relatively brief post, raising points that deserve thought by any library with many potential projects and limited resources—and doesn’t that include almost everyone? [39]

Reason to change

Maybe that’s the wrong title (a July 11, 2007 post at Academic librarian,, since the post refers back to Wayne Bivens-Tatum’s article in Library Philosophy and Practice “Technological change, universal access, and the end of the library.”

The article (available at libphilprac/88) is more deeply philosophical than I choose to be here (and I’m not sure I fully understand it), but Bivens-Tatum concludes by suggesting that

thinking philosophically about the end of the library remains our most fruitful approach to rationally informed action… Unless we want to act irrationally and thoughtlessly, then librarians must reflect on the end of the library, and reflecting on the end of the library also means reflecting on the end of our society.

Now, before you react, be aware that Bivens-Tatum (a philosophy and religion librarian at Princeton) does not use “end of the library” to mean the death of libraries. He’s using a different meaning, perhaps most commonly encountered in the phrase “means and ends”—Merriam-Webster’s sense 4 is “the goal toward which an agent acts or should act…the object by virtue of or for the sake of which an event takes place.”

The post discusses “how to persuade people to make changes willingly, assuming that the change is rational and has a coherent end in view.” Bivens-Tatum discusses one common change called for: learning or learning about new technologies. He asks “Why might people keep up with the latest gadgets and tools?” and offers four possibilities, each discussed in one paragraph:

Ø      They like change. “Some people just get bored with their regular routines.”

Ø      They like to learn about new stuff.

Ø      Change is good for the library users. (In this discussion, Bivens-Tatum offers a nice expansion of the idea that libraries are there to serve users: “Even if your concept of the library user includes, like mine does, library users not yet born.”)

Ø      Change is good for the librarians.

As Bivens-Tatum notes, if change helps the users but hurts the librarians, most librarians may be reluctant to go along unless forced change—and “forced change is itself a way to hurt people.” To maintain any sort of staff morale and buy in, you need to persuade them. That’s not always easy, but it’s worth thinking about. [40]

professional hunters & gatherers of information

What you believe to be the primary role of libraries and librarians must depend partly on what kind of library you’re dealing with. That said, this July 28, 2007 post at ( offers a sharply different philosophy of libraries and librarianship than my own—and it’s possible that we’re both right, depending on circumstances and kind of library. Here’s a little of what Morgan Wilson has to say, leaving out some excellent discussion well worth reading in the original:

People…have gotten out of the habit of using the library as the first place to go to find information. Many users have a strong perception that most of time, they'll be able to find what they need without using the library—whether as a place or as a collection of electronic resources….

 The consequence of this perception is that most of my users use the library as a last resort, when they have tried searching for something and have failed. This is a huge change from the pre-internet days, which I can just vaguely remember from my first years as an undergraduate, where research meant using a library in some shape or form, most often going into the library…

Searching often contains plenty of traps and deadends, which can make it quite frustrating at times. I think that this is a constant… The difference is that in 1990, the searcher was most often inside the library when encountering these difficulties, and from there, it was not such a leap to walk up to the reference desk and ask for help…

Compare that with today. Our users are pretty much on their own at the beginning…It's very easy for somebody to waste an hour or two on an unproductive search on Google. Then out of desperation, that same person might try the library's electronic collection and will get even worse results..

If such a person does approach the library reference desk after this ordeal, they deserve better than to be subjected to a reference interview which assumes that they've hardly thought about their subject at all…

In the past 20 years, the way that people look for information has been turned on its head. How have libraries responded to this? For the most part, it's all been by improving the library resources…But improved resources alone are not enough to stop people from wondering what we're useful for. While paying attention to improving resources, we've neglected services… What is needed a fundamental repositioning of what librarians are about, we provide services to help people find, evaluate and use information effectively. Maintaining a collection and providing resources are still relevant, but only in so far as they support the main purpose.

True for special libraries? Probably (with exceptions). True for academic libraries? Maybe. True for public libraries? I’m inclined to disagree, but you already know that. [41]

Patron or customer (and why?)

Some philosophical discussions seem likely never to end, and it’s hard to decide whether or not they really matter. Take the issue raised in that heading, also the title of Brent Wagner’s piece in the July 15, 2007 Library Journal. Wagner works at Denver Public Library. He doesn’t remember hearing “customer” used to apply to library users in Iowa or Massachusetts—but he certainly hears it at DPL and sees it in the literature. That may be partly the “be like a business” theme (another important philosophical discussion, one I’m not including here) but there may be more to it.

To some, “patron” seems old-fashioned and, well, patronizing. To others, including Wagner and me, “customer tacitly embraces a business model. One could argue it even embodies a dumbing-down mentality.” The customer, after all, is never wrong (a silly cliché that successful businesses know better than to believe). As Wagner notes, some businesses are tending the other way—bartenders at his favorite bar call him a “patron,” and some shopping centers have valet parking “for patrons.” Meantime, to Wagner the term patron “connotes a deep respect.” As a public library user, I detest the word “customer.” I’m not a customer. I pay tax money; the library uses my money and other money from some 72,000 people to serve a range of common goals. I also patronize the library—I use it. I don’t buy anything from it and I don’t expect the library to base its decisions solely on my needs.

Does the terminology matter? I’m not sure. [42]

A few of the books, none of the rules

That’s Liz Burns’ title for an August 5, 2007 post at Pop goes the library ( about the “recycling library” in Mantoloking, New Jersey—basically some bookshelves where people bring in their old books and take someone else’s old books. “There are no library cards and there are no rules.”

Burns says, “What do people want? Books. What don’t they want? Rules.” She also notes that Mantoloking is the wealthiest community in New Jersey (423 people with $114K per capita income) and is in Ocean County, New Jersey, which has a large, well-funded public library system. Residents can almost certainly buy any book they really want and have good public library resources nearby.

But bottom line, what do they want? Books. And they want them with little fuss: no cards, no rules, no returns. And, of course, no real funding and, apparently, no real expectations about what will be there. As mentioned in the article, it's about recreational reading: “People have more time to read in the summer, especially if they are going to the beach. This is an easy way to get a book or two to read.”

Burns thinks a recycling library gives people “a way to get rid of unwanted books and feel good about it. It’s an interesting local option about what to do with books that libraries don’t want as donations and that people don’t want to hang onto.” Here’s the final paragraph:

It's also interesting that people are willing to give up a wide range of selection in favor of convenience. But, of course, this is a community that has other options (the Ocean County Library, bookstores) if what they really want isn't on the recycling library bookshelf.

I don’t think that’s what’s happening (the newspaper article linked to in the post is no longer available, so it’s hard to be sure). I don’t think people are “giving up” anything—they’re using another option, one that supplements rather than replacing the library (and is admittedly nearer). I’ve been to a fair number of public libraries with their own paperback-exchange shelves, where people drop off old books (paperbacks, but that’s not a significant limit) and pick up other ones. I’d guess most cruise ship libraries have book-exchange shelves to supplement the purchased collections; I know I’ve contributed to such shelves and read books others had dropped off.

I’m not sure the “rules” discussion really means much. A tiny affluent community makes space for a local book exchange. Nice, but not necessarily relevant to public libraries or their rules and procedures. [43]

Fast/slow food/information, parts I and II

Two posts at Slow reading, on December 6 and 8, 2007. John Miedema was thinking about how much easier it is to write academic papers these days and wondered whether the speed of research (and ease of cut-and-paste “writing”) yields better papers. He stayed at a Hilton with a sign outside the restaurant: “We may not serve fast food, but we have fast service.” That inspired a graph on quality and service with fast and slow axes—using food in this case. For quality, “fast” means low in sensory experience—food that “goes down easy” but doesn’t yield much of an experience. He puts McDonald’s in the lower left quadrant: Fast food, fast service. He accepts that the Hilton claim could be legitimate: “slow” food with fast service. “The Hilton is not a five-star restaurant but it is not bad.” (One reason I tend to prefer Hiltons is that their restaurants almost always have varied menus with reasonably good food, frequently featuring some local entrees: To me, they’re a cut above most chain-hotel restaurants. So I guess I’m with Miedema here.) He puts the “locavore” diet (eating only or primarily food grown within 100 miles) in the upper right quadrant: Slow food, slow preparation. And, of course, “every town has one” of the restaurants in the lower right corner: Slow service and entirely forgettable food.

His point is not that one quadrant is superior in all cases.

We do in fact like to have a variety of eating options, depending on our current schedule, budget, mood and perspective. If this spectrum of choices is normal for eating, why do so many people predict or fret that everything is only going to get faster in information services? That is my key question. The popular media keep telling us that traditional library reference is dead because of on-line services like Google, and that the future of reading is the next version of the eBook. Given the pattern above, doesn’t it make more sense to think that as the digital rush subsides, information services will settle into a similar enduring spectrum of faster and slower services, each suitable for different people’s needs and circumstances?

Stop. Go back to that paragraph. Read it mindfully. That’s easier from the printed page, but it’s possible to read mindfully online. [44]

Think Miedema might have a point? I do. Sure, it’s another “and not or” situation—but it’s one that speaks to the persistence of the human condition. On to the second post, where Miedema does a similar graph for information—after noting that, for most of us, the 100-mile diet really doesn’t work for every meal on every day…any more than it’s a good idea to eat all the time at McDonald’s.

“Don’t make me think” is the battle cry of the digerati. Librarians begin to think that if libraries are to survive, their services must become more like Google and YouTube. I believe there is partial truth in that statement, but it is wrong to think the only direction for library services is faster.

This graph has Searchability and Readability as its axes, again with “slow” and “fast” at ends. As Miedema notes, finding information and reading stuff are distinct concepts. “Every computer is hooked to a printer for a good reason.” (OK, many computers aren’t hooked to printers, but never mind…) He puts Google-on-a-monitor lower left (fast search, fast read), a person and an ebook reader lower right (talking to others is “slow” searching but facilitates richer information retrieval; ebooks tend to support fast reading.) Upper left? Google and a book: Finding stuff fast and reading it in print form, at leisure. Finally, upper right: a person and a print book—more deliberate (slower, maybe richer) searching, more deliberate (slower, richer) reading.

It’s not an either/or choice. “Looking for a recipe? Google it. Looking for philosophical insight? Talk to people and read books slowly.” He believes we may be getting there:

Somewhere in the nineties, librarians began to think that everything was just going to get faster. For awhile it did. But the rush of the information age is beginning to subside. Web 2.0 represents a turning point in which progress requires engaging people more, a sort of “You” turn. As the dust clears, we see how digital technology complements traditional information seeking and learning.

After you’ve digested these posts, try some others at Slow reading—including a four-part series on “The facets of voluntary slow reading,” posted January 21-24, 2008. [45]


A few quick notes about library change and attendant hassles, a topic discussed at length in Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change.

One cluster begins with a David Lee King post ( from April 23, 2007, “How can we change the unchangeable, or David’s rant.” King reports on a conference session he did. I passed on the post, since I avoid commenting on conference reports in general. But this may be different. Portions:

I asked if attendees had learned something innovative or new at the conference that they’d like to take back to their libraries. Almost everyone raised their hands. Then I followed up with this question: how many will take that cool, innovative idea back to their libraries, and hit a brick wall with administrators when they try to implement that idea.

Almost everyone raised their hands.

This is not good.

Let’s assume King’s reporting correctly—almost everyone assumes they’ll hit a brick wall with new ideas from conferences. In which case, I agree with King: “This is not good.” King says “Techie librarians are discouraged” and thinks they’ll either stop caring or move to more innovative libraries. He wonders why administrators would send people to a technology conference if they don’t plan to take advantage of the learning. He generalizes about the field and administrators, but that doesn’t negate his points. (The comments are interesting, and King eventually comes to agree that not all administrators are brick walls.) In any case, some followup posts seem worth discussing briefly. [46]

Brick walls and brickbats

That’s Tim Hodson’s title for an April 26, 2007 post at Information takes over ( Hodson’s heard the same message and offers a few ideas for dealing with resistance. Excerpts, all of which strike me as good ideas:

Talk about it. Name drop the new things that you want to do, and keep name dropping…

Start talking to other departments…

Mention the cost savings and the service improvements…

Get front-line staff on your side…

Get your users to make their feelings vocal. After all, none of these technologies should be implemented with a “it’s for your own good” attitude; there is no bigger turn off.

That last one’s interesting, as it suggests that innovations should serve the users and their demonstrable needs and desires: Good advice not always heard. Then there’s the final paragraph, good and frequently unheeded advice:

But please no Brickbats. The argument that goes something like “you are so out of touch, you are a dinosaur, can’t you see your library is changing?” will almost certainly leave you feeling despondent and your manager feeling bruised. [47]

The following takes place between 12 AM and 1 AM

John Blyberg, (, April 27, 2007, commenting on King’s post. Excerpts:

The world has its share of myopic administrators. This is certainly not unique to libraries, though… There are several reasons why administrators buck original ideas.

Primarily, new ideas represent change and change equals risk. Many people in middle and upper management know that risk translates into a higher possibility of failure…

Some people also just don’t like to step out of their comfort zone. They don’t want to absorb new things…

I think that Dave should have followed up his question with, “How many of you are going ahead with implementing your ideas anyway?” Those are the people I want to work with. If you love what you’re doing, then do it.

That one’s interesting, if sometimes dangerous. In lots of cases, it’s sound advice: Better to ask forgiveness than permission. Want an intrastaff blog or wiki to show how effective these tools can be? In many cases, “just do it” is the right answer.

On the other hand… Implementing ideas that will change the public face of the library, without at least a modicum of approval from some higher level, is dangerous, and properly so. I think Blyberg recognizes that when he continues “you’ve got to…cover your behind, and remain within your sphere of authority.” That’s followed by “If you’re sharp enough to have a great idea, however, chances are you’re sharp enough to figure out a way to get some traction behind it.” Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

The comments on this post are particularly interesting—including one from Blyberg in which he uses “so you get fired” twice when responding to a comment. It must be nice to be in a position where being fired is viewed as a career opportunity, and “simply look for another place to work” is sound advice for dealing with managerial difficulties. [48]

Resistance to change

T. Scott ( commented on King’s post and some related posts in a typically thoughtful post on April 27, 2007. Excerpts:

You'd think, from reading some of these, that it is only in libraries that these difficulties appear, that there is something particular in the “traditional” librarian mindset that makes them unusually unwilling to make the changes that are blisteringly obvious to the clear-minded techno-savvy youngsters around them. It simply isn't so…

Frustrated with libraries? Try implementing change in the medical school curriculum…

The depressing part of this fact is that implementing change in libraries is a much more difficult and longterm process than simply beating troglodyte tottering library directors over the head with L2.0 slogans. The positive part is that there actually is a rich literature on change management and that change does, in fact, happen. But if you are of the early adopter temperament and mindset, it will never happen quickly enough or go as far as you would like. Just get used to that so that you don't get too frustrated and burn out. Realize that you're in it for the journey, as they say….

You need to understand the mechanics of change resistance so that you know what you're really dealing with and you need to be able to clearly and explicitly describe why a particular change is an important one for your organization.

You need to figure out what keeps the person in charge awake at night… You shouldn't be asking yourself, "How do I get my organization to accept X?" Rather ask, "What is one of the critical needs my organization has that X can help to resolve?" And it has to be something that your boss sees as a critical need, not just you.

You have to recognize the hard truth that most organizations are not going to be on the leading edge, and that some of them will be on the trailing edge. Most of 'em are going to be bumbling along in the middle. Patience and a sense of perspective are essential for your mental health. A good sense of humor helps too…

Not much to comment on here, other than to suggest reading the whole post. [49]

Four things to consider when changing the unchangeable

We come back to David Lee King, who did this followup post on May 27, 200 7. He summarizes four themes he saw in the comments: management problems, finding champions, creating a vision and training administrators. An interesting brief post (and, I believe, a reasonably fair concise summary of the comments). I’d change “training administrators” to “educating administrators,” and I’m a little less ready to put down “too much work, too little time” to “poor management” (King says you can just change job descriptions and responsibilities).

The one bone I would pick with this post is the following one-sentence paragraph:

Same with budget constraints—most emerging technology doesn’t cost any actual money (just time and staff resources), so budget isn’t really an issue.

Sorry, David, but saying time and staff resources aren’t money doesn’t make it so. Maybe that really does come back to “too much work, too little time.” Yes, in a way, that’s a management problem, but an appropriate management response may be “and that means we really can’t allocate time and staff to your project.” Why not? Because staff resources not only represent real money, in most libraries they represent the dominant expense—and “changing job descriptions, responsibilities, etc.” doesn’t magically increase the time and staff available. (I wonder whether this is a disconnect between people who work in large organizations and those who’ve dealt with very small ones. In a large organization, there usually is some slop: You usually can free up some time by juggling responsibilities. In a four-person library where one of the four has an MLS, it tends to be a lot tougher.) [50]


Debbie Abilock wrote “Blogsense, not blogvangelism” in the January/February 2006 Knowledge Quest. (If you’re not familiar with Knowledge Quest, it’s the American Association of School Librarian’s bimonthly professional journal/magazine; I found this at KQ on the web (, which includes expanded articles and original content.)

Abilock sees “a schism between self-identified blog evangelists and well-respected school librarians.” Before 2006, relatively few teacher-librarians were blogging. (Meredith Farkas’ latest survey still shows only 5.4% of libloggers working in school libraries, as compared to roughly a third each in public and academic libraries.). She wondered why—and asked. Lots of school librarians said they didn’t have time; some didn’t see any compelling professional need to blog; some were tired of learning curves. Others disdained “vanity journalism” or thought blogging was an inferior way to communicate.

Then there are those who avidly read, including blogs, but don’t think of themselves as authors. She notes that most any school librarian writes—but they may not understand blogging. And, not surprisingly in schools, there are cases where The Word has come down that blogging is not allowed.

How is this a balance discussion? Because balance works both ways. On one hand, blog evangelists may have oversold the virtues of blogging back then (and certainly oversold the extent to which library blogs would yield community participation)—but, as Abilock points out, school librarians may be missing out on benefits gained through professional interaction in blogs and other media. Abilock thinks school librarians are right to ask questions about blogging and its benefits, but notes that blogs can help make library and librarian assets visible and build communities. This may be an awkward summary; the original is a three-page PDF, which you’ll find at ala/aasl/aaslpubsandjournals/kqweb/kqarchives/volume34/34-3_Abilock.pdf. [51]

Future librarians: how today’s young professionals see tomorrow’s profession

Speaking of PDFs, here’s one from SCONUL Focus (, SCONUL being the UK’s Society of College, National and University Libraries. It’s from Issue 40, Spring 2007; you can get it as RTF or PDF.

Antony Brewerton asked young professionals (those under 40) to consider what libraries will look like in the future, what will be real and what virtual, what will make for successful service and the future roles of information professionals. Nine responses appear in the five-page article—and the first, from Pete Smith, warmed my heart in its very first paragraph:

Here and there. Virtual and physical. To borrow Walt Crawford’s word, balanced.

Without claiming ownership of a 420-year-old word, that’s a wonderful intro to Smith’s vision of libraries of futures: “places where the products of human imagination are made available, and where new forms of production and sharing are made possible.” He anticipates lots of virtual information services—but he sees libraries as being about “information in its context” and sees physical libraries having roles as community spaces. A balanced future, in other words.

I can’t say that all the responses are equally balanced. Some (not all) seem quite ready to drop “library” and “librarian.” Some (certainly not all) seem convinced of an all-digital future. It’s an interesting group of responses from a somewhat different group of librarians.

Pete Smith offers another balanced perspective in “The middling sort,” a November 22, 2007 post at Library too ( The core sentence on what he’s looking for: “A new perspective where it’s not about holding the middle but rejecting the opposites and looking for a better synthesis.” A fine way of putting it. [52]

Collection development as fairness

When I talk about balance, it’s not just life/work balance or balance between current services and new ideas or between physical and digital resources. There’s also the balance between today’s patrons and the full community of a library, which extends through time as well as space. Wayne Bivens-Tatum addresses that in this August 28, 2007 post at Academic librarian.

The most frequent argument I encounter is that collection development, like public service, must be devoted to the user. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’m sometimes tempted to say that collection development is a public service, if we understand the terms properly. Collection development should be devoted to the user, but the question then becomes, who is the user of the research library?

Most librarians have an easy answer to that question. The users are those people who come into your library, who currently need your services. In an academic library, it’s standard policy to collect materials needed to support the current curriculum, which usually makes everyone happy, unless the university starts up a new research program and the library has no materials to support it because they’ve never collected them.

However, I think this is an insufficient definition of the user of the research library. The user of the research library shouldn’t be confused with the current users. I think it was Edmund Burke who described society as a partnership between the living, the dead, and the yet unborn. This is also a good way to think of a research library. The living are certainly benefiting from collection decisions made by the dead, and we the living selectors owe it to the researchers yet unborn to collect not just for the moment, but as much as possible for all time.

There’s more, but that’s the key section for my purposes. I think that final paragraph applies in full to every major academic library, in part to every academic library that claims to be something more than a subsidized bookstore—and, in greater or lesser part, to most public libraries as well. I’ve called it “the long collection” or “the slow collection” in the past, and Bivens-Tatum says it well here. We need balance between the apparent needs of today’s users and the long-term needs of the community. [53]

On being free

A short take from Andrew Finegan, Librarian idol (, on August 14, 2007. After noting common responses to having something offered for free, he continues:

A little while ago, I heard the phrase “Free—not as in free beer, but as in free kittens” when describing free web-based tools for setting up online services. And today, to my surprise, when a work colleague jumped on the “Hey! Let's make a library blog!” bandwagon, I, strangely enough, found myself saying “No. We’re not ready yet. Our team doesn’t have the right attitude, our council’s current publications policy won’t allow for it, our current client-base isn’t going to embrace it and we just don’t have the resources!”

“We don’t have the resources? But it's free!”

Yeah. Free, as in free kittens.

I’m all for libraries blogging—when it makes sense for them and there’s some reason to believe (a) they’ll keep it going and (b) there’s a ready audience or it otherwise fills a need. (a) is by no means trivial—lovely as it is, WordPress doesn’t write your posts for you.

Finegan also says something else, challenging the notion that free is inferior. “I’d like to think that public libraries should be free, but not cheap. Just because we’re free, doesn’t mean that we should sacrifice quality.” (Of course, public libraries aren’t free—they’re commonly supported through prepayment.) Finegan suggests a slogan: “Public libraries—Free but not cheap.” [54]

Not-so-splendid isolation

Here’s an unusual one, challenging the notion that librarians should exert every effort to “going where the users are.” Harold N. Boyer, writing in the September 15, 2007 Library Journal (www.libraryjournal. com/article/CA6476388.htm), is concerned that technology is “threatening to divorce the physical library from the user as more ‘at-home’ services translate into less reason to visit the library.” A little more:

I'm speaking of services like email reference, database usage from home, downloading books and movies at home, remote holds, and home delivery of materials. In return for a modicum of convenience, each and every one of these services is helping to defeat the community purpose of the public library, contributing to the alienation of community members from one another instead of strengthening the library as a vital local gathering place.

The library profession seems to have shot itself in the foot by attempting to placate those who perceive themselves as too busy to come to the library. While the continued desire for books in libraries is evidenced by holds (which are now largely placed electronically), we've made it so that patrons at many libraries do not even have to get out of their cars to pick up the titles they reserve…

A vital part of the library's mission is and has always been to serve as a focal point for neighborhood interaction, the up-close-and-personal, everyday kind of activity that defines neighborhoods and brings residents together. So it puzzles me that libraries currently choose to employ technology to diffuse their strengths.

We don't see other components of a community similarly dispersing their resources and strong points. School activities, whether athletics, instruction, plays, or recreation, still center on the school…

The history of public libraries in America has been a struggle to involve the library with its neighborhood. While the library's information mission can be broadly achieved, traditionally, no effort has been spared to encourage the physical use of the library. Why has this ideal suddenly changed?..

Rather than employing technology to bring our communities together… we are instead encouraging our patrons to sit in front of computer screens in not-so-splendid isolation.

If public libraries become ineffectual and are consigned to the dustbin of history, I'm afraid we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

I’m an optimist by nature, and I see heavy use of our library as place—but Boyer raises a valid point on the need to balance libraries as virtual resources with libraries as places and physical centers for the community. [55]

doing what we can do

Laura Crossett suggests that even very small libraries can play a part in building the long collection, or at least a collection that goes beyond immediate expressed needs, in this November 14, 2007 lis.dom post ( She starts by noting the number of library problems still best solved by non-technological solutions—and suggesting that librarians “think a little more about what we offer that technology does not.”

One fine suggestion, particularly for places without good local bookstores (a situation far too common in smaller towns and some larger ones!):

As I see it, a library in such a situation has a responsibility not only to provide books (and movies and CDs and magazines and newspapers), but to provide as a broad an array as possible, and to introduce things that people otherwise simply won’t run into. That’s something any library can do, and it doesn’t require much. If you’re a small and poor library, just consider making one book in your monthly book order something off the beaten track, or one book every other month, if it’s a month when James Patterson has two new ones out that you have to buy. When you think about “going where your users are,” also try to think about going where they aren’t, and then figuring out a way to lead them there.

We don’t beat Google by trying to best Google. We beat Google by being the thing–the things, really–that Google can never be.

Give ‘em what they want? Define “they” more broadly—and find ways to broaden their wants. [56]

Sensory overload: Mark all as read

Finally for this cluster, a short post about personal balance from Abigail Goben, the Hedgehog librarian ( on February 1, 2008. She notes that small children reach sensory overload and respond with a “Meltdown with a capital M”—and adults go through similar things. Goben lists some evidence she’s seeing of people responding to overload. Excerpts:

In my RSS feeds, there's been a trend to show how over loaded, over networked, and divided amongst things we are. It's a decent reflection: I've gotten three new social network invitations in the past month. I have one friend who hasn't read her Bloglines in the better part of two months--and will probably go in and hit “Mark All as Read” soon. Even David Rothman—who is a large cheerleader for being selective and careful in how much you're subscribing yourself to—seems to have a new social network for physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals a couple of times a month. Jennie pointed out that she's paying attention to fewer of her Facebook alerts (me too!).

We all jumped in and now it's a balancing act. Carefully weeding the feeds that annoy us or just duplicate what we've read elsewhere. Truly, I can only read about the same library science or Britney Spears story so many times. And if one more person points me to John Blyberg's recent post—I just might have a "capital M" Meltdown myself.

“We all jumped in and now it’s a balancing act.” Some of “we all” didn’t jump in quite as deeply and are faster to bail out of social-network overload—but it’s still a balancing act. I love LSW Meebo; it offers a virtual equivalent to the casual conversations I’m missing as a telecommuter. I hate LSW Meebo: I can’t really write or even read carefully while I’m connected. [57]

Oh, and speaking of John Blyberg’s recent post…ah, but that’s another cluster.

Library 2.0 Debased

That’s the title of John Blyberg’s January 17, 2008 post ( that kicked off this series of responses (and probably quite a few I haven’t seen). Technically, this post is partly a response to another post about librarian cultural awareness, but Blyberg takes things in a very different direction. Given that I disagree with Blyberg on some of the big questions in libraries (I’m part of the camp that doesn’t believe most libraries are fundamentally at risk), you might wonder whether I’m excerpting and interpreting fairly. I can only suggest that you read the post yourself. (That’s why I provide the full URL above, not just the overall blog URL.) A few excerpts:

I’ve been feeling, for a while now, that the term Library 2.0 has been co-opted by a growing group of libraries, librarians, and particularly vendors to push an agenda of “change” that deflects attention from some very real issues and concerns without really changing anything. It’s very evident in the profusion of L2-centric workshops and conferences that there is a significant snake-oil market in the bibliosphere. We’re blindly casting about for a panacea and it’s making us look like fools…

Perhaps the most significant area of neglect is our failure to recognize that Library 2.0 is a delicate ecology. Like Web 2.0, it represents technology that is inherently disruptive on many levels. Not only does Web 2.0 undermine notions of authority and control, but its economic and human costs are very real….

We need to understand how our internal information ecology works and how to tend to it. How and where we interface with our users is where the rubber meets the road and should merit a little more thought than simply thrusting a MySpace page in their face or building a new library in Second Life–a service our users overwhelmingly do not use and, which seems to me, like a creepy post-apocalyptic wasteland. I’ll even turn the tables on myself and admit that I was wrong about local tagging in the OPAC. SOPAC was by-and-large a success, but its use of user-contributed tags is a failure…

We need to understand that, while it’s all right to tip the balance and fail occasionally, we’re more likely to do so if we’re arbitrarily introducing technology that isn’t properly integrated into our overarching information framework. Of course, that means we have to have a working framework to begin with that complements and adheres to our tradition of solid, proven librarianship…

The true pursuit of Library 2.0 involves a thorough recalibration of process, policy, physical spaces, staffing, and technology so that any hand-offs in the patron’s library experience are truly seamless. We can learn a lot about collaboration and individual empowerment from Web 2.0, but we cannot be subsumed by it because we have a mission that eclipses “don’t be evil” which is the closest thing to a conscience the Web will ever have.

There’s a lot more to the post (it’s not long, just over two print pages, but Blyberg packs a lot of thoughts into those words)—but I think these sections represent the base from which most reactions flowed. While there were only seven comments when I printed off this post, there are 51 as of February 8, 2008. That includes linkbacks from most of the posts noted below, but also many others. I won’t comment on the comments; when you read the post, read the comments as well. For that matter, I won’t comment directly on the post. I think I agree with most of what Blyberg is saying in these excerpts, except that I continue to believe that “Library 2.0” as anything more than a collection of tools is an artificial construct with little or nothing behind it. [58]

Blyberg speaks: Safe to come out of hiding

Rochelle Hartman wrote this on January 18, 2008 at Tinfoil + raccoon ( She starts with “Hey kids, it’s time for some uncritical me-tooism” and quotes the same paragraph that begins my excerpts. A little more of what Hartman has to say:

I felt responsible, in some tiny way, for helping to cobble together the lumbering 2.0 monster. I don't mean to imply that it's not relevant at all. But from where I was sitting as a public library reference manager and front-liner, it seemed like tech.0 was getting a lopsided helping of attention from other bloggers and the established library press. 

I've been in and out of the 2.0 stream for awhile… [In my new job,] I was tossing out 2.0 at my new colleagues like beads at Mardi Gras…. Some of it stuck and has become a seamless part of how we work, like Meebo IM. There's a gaming program here that's the purview of Teen services. It's regularly scheduled, well attended and means a great deal to a miniscule and static portion of our users (you know, like book clubs).

After about six months in my position, I was able to step back, breathe, and realize that 2.0 in the tech sense was not a service priority for adult reference or, really, for the community we serve. We deployed Flickr, a blog, MySpace, even a YouTube account, most of which ended up being inexpensive experiments that had zero impact in any direction…

Our community still appears to want fairly traditional library services, slightly tweaked for the 21st century. Our circ has continued to climb, largely due to a significant increase in AV checkouts. We are buying just about every new series that comes out on DVD, and we're buying multiple copies… The reference desk is hopping. We're not reaching for print reference as much, but we still reach for it…

We are working toward a long-range plan. It's in the early stages, but I think we're heading to the conclusion that we need to hear more from our community. Not from folks who walk in the door and and love us already. Not from pundits and trendsetters in the field. And I think we've learned enough that it's time to hush our mouths and just listen for awhile.

I know I’m leaving out some great stuff. I think this captures the gist: From her perspective, in her library, some things worked, some things had no impact, people still want books and other materials, and she’s decided that listening to the community is more important than implementing hot new things right away. Hard to argue with that. [59]

Twopointopians and the pure faith

The thickest printout in this cluster is for this Annoyed Librarian post from January 21, 2008 (—not so much for what AL has to say (that’s just a little longer than Blyberg’s post), but for 40+ comments that follow. Like AL or hate them/him/her/it, AL topped Meredith Farkas’ “Favorite Blogs” poll for a reason—and while part of that reason may be snarky entertainment, AL’s posts are rarely entirely devoid of meaning.

The post is called Library 2.0 Debased, which implies that he thinks Library 2.0 was ever anything important as a concept. And near the end there's a line about the "true spirit of Library 2.0." Talk of the "true spirit" of something and how it has been debased always reminds me of the cultic aspects of the twopointopians. There's a true spirit that's been debased, you see, so we have to get back to the pure faith somehow. Library 2.0 has something to it, even if we don't know what it is. We have to keep the stupid term and keep searching for the true revelation, which will undoubtedly come some day.

Would I put it that harshly? No. Is AL entirely offbase? Again, no: “true spirit of Library 2.0” (which I didn’t quote) doesn’t thrill me either. Which doesn’t mean I agree with everything AL has to say here.

The fact that this post has been picked up by so many other blogs helps me identify the dissatisfied twopointopians, those hoping to renew the faith. The twopointopians only listen to their own.

I don’t believe that’s generally true. I’m acquainted with too many people who might qualify as “twopointopians” in AL’s view (including some of those cited in this cluster), who I know read Walt at random or Cites & Insights and other skeptical perspectives and who engage in honest, thoughtful discussions. AL paints with a broad brush, intentionally so. (I disagree with most of what AL offers in this post—but not all.)

AL lectures the “late sheep”—the ones coming late to the Library 2.0 party, who “go to any talk or workshop with ‘2.0’ in the title…who get all excited by workshops where you set up a blog that you will never post to, a wiki that you will never update, or a feed reader that you will never visit again… You have only yourself to blame… There aren’t any coherent ideas behind the 2.0 fad, so it’s no wonder the late sheep have debased the faith.” She/they/he/it has a point…the Library 2.0 “movement” (as John Blyberg himself labeled it some time back) does appear to lack a coherent overall vision beyond listening to and working with a library’s community, which has been part of good library operations for a very long time.

The comments—ah, the comments. AL draws the most vehement and appalling anonymous and pseudonymous commenters of any liblog I’m aware of—and some thoughtful, useful comments (sometimes the signed ones) get buried in the muck. I won’t comment on them. [60]

The essence of Library2.0?

Meredith Farkas posted this on January 24, 2008 at Information wants to be free ( wordpress/). Some commenters at AL seem to think Farkas is a “twopointopian.” If she is, then so am I. This is a fairly long post. Portions:

I found John Blyberg’s post, Library 2.0 Debased, very interesting and in many ways, a breath of fresh air. I agree with him on a lot of levels. I agree that mistakes have been made. I think there has been a lot of confusing rhetoric about Library 2.0. I think a lot of people lost touch with what their patrons actually needed and wanted and started implementing cool technologies because they thought that was what Library 2.0 was about. I think the only thing we really disagree on is Library 2.0 actually has a single coherent definition.

Anyone who’s read my blog or has been to one of my talks where I mention Library 2.0 knows that I have always been uncomfortable with the label. I always felt like the 2.0 label and bandwagon wasn’t productive and that it would end up leading to more confusion and navel-gazing than anything else. I was right and wrong, I think. Perhaps it was because of the Library 2.0 bandwagon that the Learning 2.0 movement exists now… Could it have happened without Library 2.0? Perhaps. Hard to say.

But still, I think the movement has had some negative impact as well, and that is due, largely, to a lack of a clear conception of what 2.0 is and how one can get there. It has confused and alienated a lot of people…

Trying to capture the essence of Library 2.0 is like trying to capture the wind. I still don’t understand what Library 1.0 looks like, so I have a hard time understanding exactly what 2.0 might look like. No matter what the definition, though, when you start hearing people say that every library should have a blog, you know things have gone too far and that folks have lost site of the goal: to do right by our patrons.

I think Library 2.0 led to a lot of librarians losing their way and you can see that in the huge number of library blogs, Flickr account and MySpace pages that haven’t been updated in months or years… We should always be focused on our patrons’ needs. Not every library needs a public-facing blog. Not everyone has a population that wants to read news about the library or book reviews. Not everyone has a population that wants to have a dialog with the library. Unless you see a real need that could be filled by a blog, your library does not need a blog.

What I always hoped to see come out of the Library 2.0 movement is exactly what never did. I wanted to see a greater culture of assessment in libraries. Are you doing more assessment than you did before? If so, bravo! But I don’t hear people talking much about assessment, which makes me think that Library 2.0 hasn’t impacted that area enough. And yet, I can’t think of anything more integral to Library 2.0. How can we know what our patrons need and want if we’re not doing assessment?

Farkas offers her own definition of Library 2.0—and concludes that it’s what any good library should be doing (and many are). “The fact is, this isn’t exactly revolutionary. And good librarians have embraced these ideas for decades and decades. We have always had librarians who are change oriented and those who are change-averse. We still do.”

After more not quoted here, Farkas concludes:

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think the Library 2.0 movement itself is to blame for a lot of the not-so-well-thought-out technology implementations we’ve seen out there. There hasn’t been enough focus on assessment, on knowing our users, and on really understanding the cultures of these online communities/tools we’re getting ourselves into… I think every blogger, writer and speaker who discusses Library 2.0, social software, etc. should ask themselves if they focus enough on assessment and understanding each individual library’s population before jumping into this stuff (or if they only focus on the tools). Because, if we’re not doing that, we’re doing people a grave disservice.

There’s very little I’d disagree with here or in the rest of the post—including the point that “Learning 2.0,” a positive development (and one that PALINET Leadership Network may be part of, if you stretch a point), is a good outcome of the “Library 2.0” term. (The comments here are mostly signed and generally more coherent than some of those at AL—and include one from John Blyberg, who seems to believe that “Web 2.0” is “a historical moment in human development.”) [61]

The jig’s up, we cheated: Library 2.0 recanted

Let’s finish this cluster with a few shorter pieces. Jeff Scott posted this on January 24, 2008 at Gather no dust ( Scott overstates the extent to which Blyberg called Library 2.0 a failure, but goes on to make interesting comments about too many “Library 2.0” applications:

The problem is that we didn't wait for the users to do this; we did this for them thinking they wanted it. It is a typical problem for many libraries. We are guessing and have a tendency to do so with our users…

We tried to get their attention using these tools, but we don't utilize them in a way that works. I try to use any video or photos to help patrons see something they may have missed. The reality is, if they wanted to be there, they would have made the time. It just ends up being cute, not essential…

Library 2.0 is about changing our systems and providing more interaction with our public and feedback. Good libraries were doing that anyway. They are open to change and make the change based on the need. It isn't that difficult. The technology tools afford another way to provide contact, but it is only a technology contact, not people contact.

The reality is that most people love their libraries and they don't have a big enough issue so that it ends up in a blog or is spread around, only librarians do.

In a comment, Scott admits that this post (the first part especially, which I didn’t quote here) was partly tongue in cheek—but it’s clear that, like me, Scott (who runs a public library) doesn’t see libraries as endangered creatures: “The reality is that most people love their libraries.” Will they love them more with “Library 2.0” tools? Maybe, in some cases, if that’s what this particular community and this particular library find as common ground. [62]

Librarian 2.0 not Library2.0

Michelle McLean waited a couple of days: This post appeared on Connecting librarian ( on January 30, 2008. She read several of the other posts, including one of mine that was only peripherally on topic. She also relates this back to Ryan Deschamp’s post (“We asked for Library 2.0 and got Librarians 2.0”), which I discussed in C&I 7:11 (October 2007) and gets referenced in later posts that may be discussed, well, later.

I am rethinking my whole attitude to Library 2.0… I know that I have been leading that bandwagon from my small perch and so I have some responsibility in that blame…

If we want to stop the bandwagon leading our libraries astray and see them focused on users and services, then maybe as individuals we need to drop the Library 2.0 and focus on being Librarian 2.0’s—at work and outside of it and just help our libraries to utilise and adapt the Web 2.0 tools that are appropriate for our users and our services. Our libraries should always have that focus anyway—regardless of what tools are available—it’s not one size fits all.

So my part will be to drop Library 2.0, but continue to be a Librarian 2.0, instituting Web 2.0 tools in my library as our users needs are assessed and I find that Web 2.0 is the best option. If Web 2.0 tools are not the best option, then we won’t go there…

These are exciting times, with exciting new tools to play with. So I will continue having fun with them, inside and outside of work. However, I will also keep my focus on our users and do my best as a public librarian to provide them with best service possible—whatever means that will require—Web 2.0 or not.

It really pains me to leave out most of the rest, but you know where to find it. [63]

Blyberg on L 2.0-a response (parts 1 and 2)

Simon Chamberlain posted these relatively brief essays on January 30, 2008. The first part gives Blyberg enormous credit for admitting that SOPAC’s user tagging “is a failure”—but argues with “failure”:

I’d like to suggest that John hasn’t really failed though - what he’s done is found a method that hasn’t worked (or hasn’t worked yet, or didn’t work in his particular case). That’s a good thing! Now he (and we) know that we need to try something different. The original idea was good (IMHO), but the execution failed, because (John suggests) a small group of taggers, with an interest in one particular area (manga) contributed most of the tags. There weren’t enough tags contributed by readers with other interests.

Chamberlain suggests increasing the number of people providing tags—aggregating data from LibraryThing or WorldCat or Amazon. Do all three of those have enough user tags to make a difference? I’ve heard it suggested that only LibraryThing succeeds, and that only because people are tagging their own collections. Still, this is an interesting and useful response. [64]

The second part notes AL’s post—and says it’s worth a read:

I’d say it is especially worth a read if you think you will disagree with AL. Why? Well, we know that groupthink is bad. Only listening to people who are already inclined to share your point of view is a way to make bad decisions. That’s incredibly well documented in the psychological literature. For those with a more contemporary focus, it’s also mentioned in The Wisdom of Crowds. Having more information improves decision making.

Chamberlain says the comments are worth reading:

It’s clear that many of AL’s readers see Library 2.0 as a technology focused movement, maybe even as the victim of hype/technolust. That’s not how Library 2.0 advocates see themselves or the movement… But plainly, the message they are trying to convey hasn’t got through to AL’s readers. “We” (meaning all of us) don’t all know what Library 2.0 is…

Chamberlain then lists more posts and notes that they “provide support for my argument that ‘we’ don’t have a clear definition of Library 2.0.” Indeed “we” don’t. I don’t see the need for more comment. [65]

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 8, Number 3, Whole Issue 100, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, Director and Managing Editor of the PALINET Leadership Network.

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